Monday, 15 June 2015

jurassic world

”It’s… it’s a dinosaur.”

Alan Grant – Jurassic Park

Walking home after that first June 11 midnight showing I’d been looking forward to with a mix of excitement, nervousness and even some anxiety for months, I remarked how I had dearly missed one classic element from the original films; the grand reveal of a dinosaur.


We all fondly remember the first time Grant and Ellie, and we as an audience, laid eyes on the majestic Brachiosaurus. It was a breathtaking, game-changing moment, not just for the film industry, but also for the characters inhabiting this rich new universe.
“Well,” my boyfriend answered, “that might have been the point. We’re now so used to seeing special effects they don’t amaze us anymore. We’ve come to expect this level of quality.”

I realized he, not necessarily a fan of the Jurassic Park films or very knowledgeable of the cinematic universe, understood right away the one point the director and screenwriters had been hammering on continuously: that we take a lot of technology available to us for granted, even though it’s not too long ago non of us owned smart phones, or had access to lightning-fast Internet.

Jurassic Park brought us Chaotician Ian Malcolm riling against InGen wanting to make a profit with the help of technology they barely understood, his message a warning against the need to satisfy consumers’ hunger: ironically, the film spawned an incredible amount of real-world merchandise - from toys to towels to plastic lunch boxes, you name it, it was available. It became one of the most successful films of all time.

Strolling through our city’s centre, surrounded by closed but lit-up shops and sparkling advertisement posters it struck me how well executed this element in Jurassic World is; in that world (and ours), where Masrani’s (Irfhan Khan) company has bought up the InGen technology that made the resurrection of these prehistoric behemoths a possibility, people have grown accustomed to having access to incredible technology, are used to seeing these animals. It’s no longer amazing. It’s no longer thrilling. People want bigger, faster, better; and they want it now.

What Colin Trevorrow, Derrek Connoly and the producers understood from the beginning was the very fact that this fourth installment in the franchise would be milked commercially with all sorts of companies wanting a piece of the cake – and they anticipated on it. There’s the Samsung Innovation Center. There’s a Starbucks on Main Street. There are brand shops, big-name restaurants, bars and American celebrities giving instructions on ride videos.


To drive the point home further, Verizon investors adopt the Indominus rex. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Henry Wu (BD Wong), seal the deal with a pitch promising a bigger, faster and stronger creature with more teeth than any dinosaur known from the fossil record. This commercialization of the park is a big wink to our own world, almost a reflection on how we live, consume and products or sports teams are promoted.

It’s no surprise everything goes South; and even when the Indominus escapes and threatens the lives of thousands of guests, Masrani tries to solve the crisis in silence and unseen, to protect the company and ensure stock and attendance won’t drop.

Company greed in films is not necessarily a new element; the ALIEN films all dealt with it in some capacity, and Weyland-Yutani was far more ruthless than Masrani; though conflicted, Simon Masrani eventually realizes they have gone too far and should terminate the project before innocent people fall prey to the monster.

Voice-of-reason Lowery (Jake Johnson) has a thing or two to say about the company’s ideas on making profit and creating hybrids. Wearing a vintage Jurassic Park T-shirt he bought off E-bay, Lowery essentially represents us, the fans. When Claire asks him not to wear this garment to work anymore because it is in bad taste, he shoots back at her saying the original park was cool because it did not need commercialized hybrids. “They had real dinosaurs.”

The authenticity of the dinosaurs, both in Jurassic Park and Jurassic World is debatable; again Trevorrow and Connoly show their love for the franchise by including elements and dialogue from the original novel. Masrani, confronting Wu with the news of some unexpected traits in Indominus’ genetic makeup, is told the dinosaurs would look very different had they been real and created with pure DNA. “You did not want reality; you wanted more teeth,” Wu says.

And it makes you wonder; did we, the audience, not demand more teeth as well?

"Fifteen years ago, John Hammond had a dream. Like John himself, the dream was grand. It was outsized. It was bold. It was impractical. It was not to be. Half an hour from now...John Hammond's dream, re-imagined, will come true."

Peter Ludlow- The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park (1993) needs no in-depth introduction. The outstanding visual effects, story and score still capture the hearts and minds of people all over the globe. Built on Isla Nublar, it promised to be a safari park unlike any other; populated with dinosaurs it would attract greater visitor numbers than any other theme park in the world.

But the dream turned into a nightmare. The island never opened to the public, and the sequels, The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001) took place on Isla Sorna, known as Site B, where InGen created the dinosaurs and perfected the technology.

Each of the sequels promised and gave us more: bigger dinosaurs, more carnage, returning characters, better visual effects, larger set pieces.

But neither was able to fully recapture that feeling of wonder and magic the original still holds; and the debate on which is the better follow-up rages on in the community even today. Discussion on each individual film’s quality aside, all three brought something unique to the table: the first one amazed us with shockingly real-looking dinosaurs and a clever tale of how they were brought back to life; the second introduced not just Compsognathus (the adorable looking, chicken sized dinosaurs with a mean-streak) and the tall-grass Velociraptor ambush, but gave us a Tyrannosaurus rampaging through San Diego looking for its offspring; the third presented us with Pteranodons hunting people in a cathedral-sized aviary.


And Jurassic Park III dared do something the other films had not yet touched upon – it introduced a bigger, faster predator – Spinosaurus.
The King of dinosaurs was no match for this new bad guy on the block. The dethroning of the Tyrannosaurus was not met with enthusiasm by fans.

After the third film question was; what could a fourth installment add? Had we not seen it all, and had the filmmakers not written themselves into a corner? How many more stories about people running away from dinosaurs could be told?

Fourteen years later we are provided the answer; the film takes the franchise in a new direction by not just showing an open park, but have it, cleverly, been accessible for the past decade. It not only avoids the expected discussion “who would want to invest in and reopen this park and what sort of people would dare visit after all that happened!?”, it gives us a chance to see John Hammond’s dream come true.

And fail, once again, spectacularly. But not before we are given a glimpse of some of its attractions and rides.

"Welcome... to Jurassic World.”

Claire Dearing – Jurassic World

The announcement of Jurassic World (then still named Jurassic Park IV) being taken into production was met with a mix of skepticism and enthusiasm. Quite a few times the project had been in pre-production before, but always got cancelled or put on the backburner.
Excitement went through the roof when this film finally seemed a “go”. Rumors about possible story lines and returning characters flew. The community was buzzing and every little bit of news seeping out was analyzed thoroughly.

Expectations were high – maybe impossibly so. Given the fourteen-year gap and the time spent on developing a plausible story, surely the film could blow the previous sequels out of the water?

The answer is; it depends on how you view this film. Do you go in as a critical fan with high expectations, or as a casual member of the audience looking for a good time with an entertaining Summer blockbuster?

Having followed the production of Jurassic World closely, I had an idea of what to expect. The new park, now open for ten years; the need for a bigger, more ferocious creature; new characters (with only Henry Wu returning, linking this film to the original Jurassic Park); a return to Isla Nublar.
Elements that no doubt would make for a compelling, interesting addition to the franchise; a return to Isla Nublar was something fans had been looking forward to most. What happened to that island where the original theme park was once built? And what came of its dinosaurs? The reveal that there would be a Restricted Area in Jurassic World fuelled imagination and speculation.

Much was kept under wraps, though. With all the trailers and TV-spots out, fans feared they knew a little too much before going in and seeing the actual film. It was a relief to discover a lot was left undisclosed until finally sitting down in that theatre seat.

“Ooh, ah; that’s how it always starts. But then later there’s running… and then screaming.”

Ian Malcolm - The Lost World: Jurassic Park

All that glitters is not gold, though. The film leans heavily on the nostalgic factor; it is filled to the brim with references to the original film (and some to the sequels). From visual elements to (tweaked) dialogue, there can’t be a misunderstanding here: this film has a deeply rooted love and respect for the original that began it all.

And that’s where it goes awry. While it does attempt to hold its own by adding more humor than the other three films have combined (and less subtle too), it seems it has no clear direction in its first hour. Is it a comedy? A thriller? An adventure film? A dark parody?
It tries to be all of these, and it certainly gets laughs in all the right (wrong) places, but by not restraining itself to being a little less upfront, it fails becoming truly suspenseful; an element in which Jurassic Park excelled.

The small cast and isolated location in Jurassic Park made for an intimate viewing experience. The characters kept us invested through solid acting and some brilliant dialogues (my personal favorite remains the exchange between Hammond and Ellie in the park’s restaurant), even when there were no dinosaurs to be seen. It worked towards revealing its dinosaurs in a restrained way, with a slow build-up and an unraveling of events leading to that finale; Ellie and Muldoon trying to turn the power in the park back on while being hunted by Velociraptors – the fearsome beasts not seen until the last fifteen minutes of the film.

With Jurassic World everything is bigger and faster, and it gets thrown in our faces relentlessly. Despite there being about 20.000 visitors in the park instead of just seven characters fighting for survival, you probably won’t really care for their fates as none of them are fleshed out.

Not that it matters much; most of the action takes place far away from Main Street, attractions and the hotel where people eventually take shelter, leaving the main characters (Owen, Claire, Zach and Gray) to find a way out and stop the Indominus rex from going on a killing spree amongst Nublar’s human inhabitants.

A few spectacular deaths aside (Claire’s assistant Zara no doubt has the most talked about, having the questionable honor of being the first on-screen female victim in the series), Jurassic World does not differ all that much from Jurassic Park III when it comes to who’s in true danger. From the get-go it’s clear who the leads are and who will make it off the island. The film plays it safe when it comes to Owen and Claire (children are still untouchable) making it out – this is hardly a surprise.

It’s a commercial decision as well. The film shamelessly hints at a sequel (which will no doubt be announced soon, given the box-office success on Jurassic World’s opening weekend), and Pratt, Hollywood’s new favorite, has already been signed on for future installments.

To answer that question asked earlier - we were indeed given more teeth; but in favor of those teeth, the ball was dropped on suspense, story and character building.

Looking at it with the most critical of eyes, the film is a true product of our time. Fast-paced (the very opening is rushed, they waste not a moment getting the boys on the island; even Jurassic Park III, the shortest of the four films, had a slower build-up), with more visual effects and action sequences, it enters the pantheon of Summer blockbusters people come to see for the visuals rather than the story.

And the story lacks; there is no explanation as to why Masrani decided to set up shop on Isla Nublar, the Restricted Area is off-limits for reasons not revealed (but it doesn’t appear very dangerous either), the boys finding the ruins of the original Visitor Center clearly is a service to the fans (it serves no other purpose than showing off this truly is the original island); the characters’ backgrounds are vague or non-existent. I couldn’t help but feel the script might have been much richer, but a lot was cut to keep the film just under two hours. It certainly could have done with ten, fifteen more minutes to help give the characters some background and making them a bit more relatable.


Much has been said about Jurassic Park’s visual effects. The combination of animatronics and, where needed, CGI creatures made for an incredible experience. The animals looked real and one with their environment. They had gravity and presence. The limitations of the technology at the time, much as with Spielberg’s Jaws, became the film’s greatest strength; out of a 124 minutes, the dinosaurs grace the screen for a combined 15 – less was more.

Jurassic World relies, with the exception of one scene, fully on CGI recreations and enhancements. Most of it looks solid, though a bit clinical, but three species we’ve seen in the other films before don’t always live up to expectations, most notably the Pteranodons and the Tyrannosaurus.

The Pteranodons have changed in appearance for a third time. Briefly seen in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, they went from majestic to more sinister in Jurassic Park III (teeth included, even though real Pteranodons did not sport these); Jurassic World’s Pteranodons ditched the teeth but lack severely in appearance. Something does not look right with them and unlike the overpowering presence they have in Jurassic Park III, the animals presented to us in Jurassic World seem more like cartoon characters which can do little harm.


The Tyrannosaurus, supposed to be the original T. rex from Jurassic Park has, quite literally, not aged well. Considering she’s twenty-two years older you’d expect her to look a little different, but the animation seems off. It might have been better to throw in a random Tyrannosaurus in its prime, much like the third film did, as Jurassic World, despite pressing this in the marketing campaign, does not make clear it is indeed the original dinosaur and most audience members would either not know or not truly care.

The Velociraptors, range from “good” to “odd”. There are moments they look less impressive than the Raptors from Jurassic Park III, and there not being any animatronics used for the actors to interact with certainly doesn’t help. At other times they look incredibly photo-realistic and are highly detailed. All in all, it’s hit and sometimes miss with these effects.

Not unexpected, the Indominus rex is stealing the show during every scene it appears in. It looks threatening and overpowering. “The Indominus rex,” Owen snorts as he climbs the stairs to lay eyes on the beast for the first time and inspect its enclosure. Here, for a brief moment he too represents us, the critical fans who were displeased to learn that a fictional creature would enter Jurassic Park’s canon. But as soon as Owen realizes what he truly deals with his attitude changes; and with his, so does ours. This is not a silly monster or a laboratory experiment gone wrong – the creature is a conscious combination of some of the most ferocious and feared animals the world has ever known, and it stands for everything Michael Crichton’s book character Malcolm warned Hammond and InGen for.

After the creature escapes, heralding the second hour, the film finds a better balance. As the lead characters struggle to find the boys and keep the threat contained, it becomes less dependent on the previous trilogy, and the original in particular. At times it requires an extraordinary suspension of disbelief, certainly during the final minutes, but that does not take the fun out of the film.

For there is much fun to be had! The characters, though most of them one-dimensional, are likeable. The boys, dealing with the pending divorce of their parents, team up
during the events of the film, which gives them a true arch and some character development. Claire goes from somewhat cold businesswoman to protective warrior – does it still need mentioning she never loses her high heels?
Owen, though not developing as well as Grant in the original film, is a character you root for, considering he’s standing up for what he believes in and though he’s a bit rude and forward, puts other people first in times of danger.


Ending up on the island as early in the film as we do, we get a good chance at exploring it a little; from the Gentle Giants Petting Zoo straight to the Tyrannosaurus feeding and the mighty Mosasaur’s show, there isn’t a dull moment.

With most of the film shot either on location or actual sets, it’s a breath of fresh air in a world dominated with films relying not just on CGI creatures and action sequences, but digital environments as well. The actors hike and run through actual forests and structures. Kauai and Oahu, Hawaii, provide spectacular scenery and stunning backdrops.

Is it a commercial affair? Certainly. The Jurassic brand name no doubt will get butts in seats, the marketing campaign has been a non-stop feast with no less than twenty-three TV spots seeing the light of day. Toys and merchandise once again found their way into stores and onto shelves. With the help of social media such as Facebook and Twitter the studio reached millions of people. And word of mouth does the trick too; the buzz is overwhelmingly positive. People truly have a good time watching this film.

Ian Malcolm was right (and we know how he hates being right all the time); screaming and running people are guaranteed in Jurassic World! Hey, you! Don’t forget your margaritas while evading Pterodactyls!

“Remind me to thank John for a lovely weekend.”

Ian Malcolm – Jurassic Park


Is Jurassic World as good as Jurassic Park? As a fan I say, “no, it is not.” It relies too heavily on nostalgia by making references to all three previous films, the original in particular. There is a needlessly complicated and unresolved power struggle going on behind the scenes, with InGen, a genetic research corporation, having been changed into a security firm – it’s never explained why, and leads to the scene with Wu that simply screams “we’ll reveal all in the sequel!”. Which no doubt will see the light of day given the financial success the film is experiencing; but much to my annoyance, it will take time before we will know what exactly is going on.

As a true sequel, it falls short too. The Lost World: Jurassic Park was a natural continuation of the story told in the first film, an expansion of the mythology. Jurassic World, much like Jurassic Park III is more of a stand-alone film. They both take place in the Jurassic Park universe, but are less influenced by the events on Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna in the first two films.
At times, Jurassic World feels more as if it’s a soft-reboot. It might have been better had it provided less fan service and stood its own ground a little more; the director and screenwriter clearly know enough about the universe to include all sorts of neat details – with some more confidence it could have been a far more original entry.

Though it lacks real suspense, it has some chilling moments and a few scenes that have you question how on Earth the characters will find their way to freedom and safety again.
And, hats off to the filmmakers, it takes some risks by having Owen not just communicate, but team up with the Velociraptors as well. Though they’re a far cry from being pets, he gets up closer with them than anyone in the franchise before: considering they are the most deadly in Jurassic Park’s prehistoric menagerie, chances were high fans would be pissed-off. But for the most part, the “Raptor Squad” idea works and flows naturally.

Another gamble is the limited screen time the Tyrannosaurus receives. After the misadventure of having it be killed off in Jurassic Park III without a satisfying return later during that film, it is surprising the focus, again, solely lies on a completely different predator. Only for a brief moment do we see the Tyrannosaurus, obscured by spectators, make an appearance at the start of the film; then it takes until those final minutes for her to make a short return. It’s a bold move, but one that works out better than expected.

"Corporate felt genetic modification would up the wow-factor."
Claire Dearing – Jurassic World

It upped the WTF-factor too; there are some truly silly moments and head-scratching events unfold at a breakneck pace. But beneath the sometimes misplaced comedy and bland characters, the film certainly has heart, soul and a message. It was made with passion, love and respect for Jurassic Park and it clearly shows.


Fans of the original books by Michael Crichton will have a field day spotting all the little nods to his work; not just the debate between Masrani and Wu has been included (taken from a discussion Hammond and Wu have in the novel), but design elements and animals from the books make an appearance as well. And the very thought the animals would be, to an extent, trainable comes to life with Owen (Chris Pratt) trying to teach the Velociraptors to follow orders.

Fans of the previous films will no doubt feel relieved their favorite franchise has finally been revived and brought back in the biggest way possible. After fourteen years of dinosaur-drought (Jurassic Park not just defined the genre; it’s lonely at the top and never had a true competitor) Jurassic World is literally taking over the world, showing interest in dinosaurs is far from extinct!

“After careful consideration I have decided to endorse your park... eh, world.”

by Neelis van der Holst




1 comment:

  1. Good review. Rather lengthy, but all good points.

    ReplyDelete

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